When Daiei first considered bringing Gamera back in the early ‘90s, the studio wanted a gentle, kid-friendly movie, conducive to the original Showa series. That didn’t happen – then, anyway.
Gamera the Brave was that vision, just a decade later. It’s an honest, mellow, and pure giant monster movie, made for a child’s sensibilities, but willing to dramatically engage them. While playful, it’s never campy. While charming, it’s never ridiculous.
This giant turtle movie deals in grief and belief, weaving through a small, vintage-like coastal town. In the first modern day scene, Toru (Ryo Tomioka) stands behind his father at a small cemetery. Asked to honor his recently deceased mother, Toru rejects the thought of heaven. “My mother is a box of ashes in the ground,” he says. It’s gut-wrenching, a child distant from his now single father, often alone, and because of various pressures, unable to mourn.
As per classic Gamera lore, this is a friend to all children. He looks the part too, Gamera himself just a child with rounded eyes, soft features, and mild disposition. Rather than directly save kids though, he (indirectly) emotionally heals them. The idea stems from a smart consideration of this character, who instead of letting little ones fly on his shell, gives them tools to find themselves or their courage. As a hatchling, Gamera – nicknamed Toto – provides Toru with entertainment, friendly antics, and companionship. When grown, Gamera is snared by a lousy government official. Toru and friends sync up to overcome their fears, making the rescue.
Initially, there’s no trust between father and son. Toru defies his father Kousuke (Kanji Tsuda), leading to an abusive slap before Kousuke relents, realizing it’s best to instill confidence in his son. Original series director Noriaki Yuasa fanned these themes, staging stories where adults reject or ignore their young ones. Gamera the Brave brings the same ideology, but with honest subtlety rather than Saturday morning, brain-eating aliens.
Importantly, Gamera the Brave is still sincere kaiju cinema; the gentleness isn’t cause for derision. If anything, it’s worth celebrating how careful and mature this is, providing both action and violence alongside emotion. Gamera comes up against an agile monster Zedus, an unexplained lizard/dragon/serpent beast, a worthy foe, revealing a carefully expressed sinister-but-safe look. The whole movie carries this balance, situated flawlessly between new and old, becoming a Gamera movie step stool for kids too old for say, Gamera vs Guiron, but too young for Gamera 3. An undervalued middle school classic.
Arrow appears to port the same master used by Media Blasters in a now out-of-print, stand-alone Blu-ray release. That’s a shame. While not unwatchable or terrible, it’s time for a new scan. Resolution lags behind more recent efforts, leaving a softened image, lacking in fine detail. Menial grain poses no genuine challenge to the encode, well resolved and consistent.
The greatest loss is depth. Black levels never reach sufficient density, as if when Gamera the Brave came over to the States, IRE levels were never set correctly. It leaves things flattened and lifeless, mirroring the sharpness’ dull appearance.
Coated in sepia tones, Gamera the Brave was almost certainly the first color corrected film in the franchise. Primaries smooth over, reduced in their potency by digital grading. The warmth suits the tone, appealing on its own, even without the attractive pop of most films aimed at this demographic.
Of the films in Arrow’s Gamera Blu-ray box set, Gamera the Brave holds the deepest low-end impact. Not reference tier, but grading on a curve (in a set mostly with mono tracks and three ‘90s era 5.1 mixes), giant monsters add genuine rumble to their fights. Steps and destruction elicit a response from the subwoofer. A few explosions rattle things, but cautiously – this mix doesn’t dip into the lowest Hz, only the surface levels.
As the most modern film, surround use excels, but do note stereo options for both Japanese and English language tracks are offered. Stick to the DTS-HD 5.1, naturally extending the soundstage to fill the room during action. Wide debris fields, panicked crowds, and flying/jumping creatures offer ample opportunity for channel separation. Expectations met.
ScifiJapan’s Keith Aiken and Bob Johnson provide dry commentary (and limited production info), but sadly, August Ragone does NOT have an introduction, the only film in the set he’s absent from. From there, How to Make a Gamera Movie runs 37-minutes, with the director providing a rough tutorial on special effects filmmaking. Another behind-the-scenes feature lasts an hour, with effects filming mixed in. A retrospective covering the entire franchise lasts 43-minutes. Footage from the premiere comes before an interview with star Kaho, the latter 10-minutes.
A visual effects supercut includes some unfinished scenes as the team commentates on their work. Trailers and an image gallery send Arrow’s set off on a glorious finish.
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Gamera the Brave
Trapped in the shadows of the preceding films, Gamera the Brave brings the series back to its roots with a carefully composed story about loss and grief.
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